Category Archives: Studio

The Origins Of Goth

Mathew Hudson’s ITV Anglia News piece featuring Bauhaus and UK Decay about the origins of the Gothic Rock genre in Luton and Northampton. Interviews with Bauhaus manager Graham Bentley, UK Decay’s Steve “Abbo” Abbott and myself…Steve Spon.
Also includes footage of a very early Bauhaus gig at the Romany Pub, Northampton. The TV piece was first shown 31 October 2014.
The location of the mixing room, rehearsal and interview footage was Sound Arc Studios in Shefford near Bedford, recorded summer 2014.

Barney The Musical

Barney The Musical CD - screenshot

Barney The Musical CD – screenshot

2015

At the beginning of this year I upgraded my DAW with a new Alienware I7 Quadcore PC and my software to the new Steinberg Cubase Pro 8. I am loving it to! I have been using Cubase now since 1990 and the days of the good old Atari putor’s. This one is the best version yet, Steinberg now have the backing and benefit of the Yamaha music group behind this next generation virtual studio technology. So a music tech marriage made in heaven between the Cubase software brains and the Yamaha hardware interface, will lead to further integration into the future with innovative new digital work surfaces and controllers. For the time being I will have to settle with my brand new Steinberg UR22 Audio Interface, which does the job superbly, with as high quality sound as you might need.

The first major project of the new set-up was a slight divergence to the normal musical production and it came as a refreshingly different and pleasant surprise. Ella Jo Street who I have recorded music for in the past , asked me if I would record an Audiobook of one of her kids stories. I was a bit dubious at first, although in the past I have recorded spoken, plays for the radio and podcasts. Anyway we ran through a dress rehearsal of the 6500 word story and I recorded it onto an MP3, it played back at around 50 minutes and in places it was hilarious with EJ Street finding great character in her performance.

I also recently acquired a Rhode NT1A microphone, so after a bit of tweeking EJ and I decided to record the story again , this time obtaining a top quality sound and putting some thought into Foley and other sound effects. We set up the environment with a dampened space away next door, ran cables under doors, set the laptop up on the table for a text read out. Then we sat EJ down comfortably , with headphones, with talk-back. I set up the phantom power on the UR22 and set up the recording levels. I set up a number of Audio channels on Cubase, which I set to run at 24bit and 44.1khz, we did a few test takes until we were happy. Then we started.

We ploughed our way through the first 15 minutes before we listened back. We were largely really happy with the take, the sound was good, the performance was excellent, EJ had really done her homework on the characters voices.. The only things we needed to touch up later was a slight volume adjustment I had to make as it was recording some three minutes in. I had to compensate for this in the post production process. Once the new level was set, it was good for the recording of all the following narrative. Later we went back and replaced the continuity headings narrative.

The new Cubase Pro 8 - screenshot of the Barney The Musical Project page

The new Cubase Pro 8 – screenshot of the Barney The Musical Project page

As time wore on however, EJ tired quicker so we ended up doing more takes, which I knew would have to be edited later. I didn’t want EJ’s voice to give either before the end of the reading. So we stopped for a cup of tea break. Had a listen back to the work so far, hey! It was sounding real good!

We returned to finish the second half, which in fact turns out to be more or less an hour long. EJ needed me to rewind a couple times to check her character voices were right, eventually we got to the end. A great performance but some serious editing was needed to edit the different takes into the right order. I literally had to follow the text and check every line whilst editing, which I needed to do right away, whilst fresh in my software memory! After a few hours of editing I had something to play EJ for her to check, she spotted an ‘audio typo’ or two , we put it right. Set up a soft limiter and slight eq on monitors. We ready for the next stage.

This is where we were to have fun!

“Barney The Musical” is a story from Ella Jo Street’s “A Witch called Gwubbin’s” series aimed at kids between 4 and 11 years. Gwubbins creates magical spells with the best of intentions , but the spells go hysterically wrong leaving her visiting actress sister Alidusta from the end of the universe and her dog Barney in ‘pandabonium’ in a stage musical.

We decided we would make an audio book to remember. As this was a musical we decided that we must depart from a normal narrative (Like most audiobooks) and add some bespoke ‘musical’ songs.
So how would the new Cubase Pro 8 cope with an hour long Audiobook with foley and music?

On another project we started work on the bespoke musical pieces. This was to involve lots of practising of scales, donkey honking, yodeling, murmuring, whispering. We needed to create the sounds of wonky contraptions, magical broomsticks, dogs barking and running riot.

Using Halion SE I created an Orchestra on different layers and created a loop on one idea. On another we needed a kind of fanfare so I used the same orchestral multi-timbral in Halion, eventually creating four or five pieces . Once reasonably happy I suggested EJ write some lyrics. In the story she mentioned a few songs for instance “The Dog Show Cabaret”, “Howling Moon Blues”, “Winner by a Whisker” and “Barney in my Dreams”.

Very soon EJ had four short songs to work with, so I got her to drop the vocals onto each of the songs. What a fine job to! She got into full operatic character and before long we were creating mini mixes to slide into the main book.
So we were now armed with most of the sounds and Foley we needed to create our masterpiece!

It was just a case of layering on different tracks, using the new ‘REVelation’ Reverb hosted in Cubase Pro8, I found a general theatrical ambiance for the live on stage stuff. Later we played about with the different characters voices, the elf for instance we transposed up and layered, the magic spells needed a peeling harp and bobs your uncle, there were many other treatments, that all hopefully augmented to a well put together story that is all but graphically animated!

“Barney The Musical” is a kids story at the end of the day, it is kids that it is meant for however in places it reminds me of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End , or Jeeves and Wooster or something similar. This is not a regular audio book in the true sense, it is a listening experience par excellence!

I do have a serious grumble about Cubase Pro 8 however.

Most songs that one might want to record are never more than a few minutes. However with “Barney The Musical” being over an hour long , it did manifest a peculiar problem that made it very difficult to work with. As more tracks piled up over the narration with different sound effects and some control changes, editing got slower and slower. Yes I agree it was a very huge song! But I would have thought Cubase should have coped admirably but it let me down!

Everything was fine when editing near the beginning of the material but after about a third of the way through, editing took longer and longer the nearer I got to the end! At the end each edit would often take as long as two minutes to perform, a real pain in the neck that slowed the work down significantly. I took time out to read the manual and help sections , I tried various setting changes in the audio devices pages. I turned down the ‘undo’ in fact I spent several hours trying to track down the problem. I went online to the Steinberg Cubase forums and tried several searches for others that may have had the same problem. I did find a couple of leads, like turning of the ‘auto-hit detection’ in the preferences (It’s on by default) I removed all of the hit-points which were totally unnecessary in audio book narrative material anyway. There was one tantalising thread that sounded just like my problem but no-one had got back with any answer , so I still don’t know if it’s an inherent problem with the new Cubase Pro 8 or whether it is a setting somewhere! If i am going to use Cubase to create any more audio books I am going to have to nail this problem. When I get a chance I will address the forum with it.

In the nineties I had a similar problem with Cubase when it moved over to VST with audio for the first time. I was getting these timing anomalies they seemed pretty random. I couldn’t work out if it was a multitude of differing facets to do with the multi-track sync or in the software or what. I spent weeks trying to track the problem down and it caused a lot of disgruntled customers to complain which meant I had to compensate with so much extra time in the studio. At that time there was no internet in the studio, in fact it was early days full stop. I never got to the bottom of the problem at the time. It was a couple years later when I was reading through the upgrade history to a later version of Cubase that I came across an entry that stated…

version…such and such…”fixed…..anomalous timing discrepancy” and sure enough it was fixed!

All of that time wasted, hours of trying to track down, the disgruntled customers, the heck!

The fault lay in the software all the bloody time! Since then my lesson learned is to never jump in with brand new software, let someone else be the guinea pig.

So after a few sessions we now have our first audio book. There were many lessons learned in the creating of Barney The Musical, now it’s onto the packaging, marketing and promotion. It will manifest both in a CD form and digital versions. We have plans for more audio books now, I will have to nail the Cubase problem, but I am sure that will be fixed very soon. All new projects are likely to have teething problems, it’s part of the learning process.

Gwubbins The Witch Audio Books – Barney The Musical

The Pneumania Story

The Pneumania Story: parts 1 & 2

Part1

Pneumania formally known as ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’, were formed early in 1979 in Luton UK by founding members and nihilists, Steve Spon and The Captain (not Sensible!). They had just converted a basement in a soon to be demolished terraced house in Luton, into a rehearsal room and went on a hunt for a Vocalist and Bass player.

Spon, Steve Harle and The Captain
Their search led them to the ‘Grapevine’ public house that was the ‘hub’ of the thriving Luton Punk scene. Amongst the throng of ‘spikey-tops’ and ‘Seditionary’ clothed regulars, one girl stood out from the crowd. Her name turned out to be Gaynor and although she had never sung before, she gladly accepted an offer to come along to a jam session in view of forming a Band.

Gaynor had spent the last year or so, charging tourists along Kings Road in Chelsea for taking her picture. With her bleached white ‘Jack Frost’ haircut and stunning punk fashion clothing she wouldn’t fail to catch the eye, but the ‘real deal’ about Gaynor was in spirit she was a seminal punk Goddess. It wouldn’t matter if in a musical sense whether she could sing or not, what she had to say would be more important.

Gaynor (Sow White) and Steve SponInitially, the Captain who formally played guitars and at the time was currently playing Bass with Luton’s first punk band  ‘The Jets’, would now focus on drums.
Spon who formally played keyboards, would take up the guitar. For the first few sessions this was the line-up and although much ragged round the edges, within a short while a new sound developed with a hand full of songs becoming established.

Recruiting the right Bass Player however, was proving a problem. Cue Steve the Voice, who had been on the sidelines for a little while. An ex-art student with his ‘nose on the streets’ who couldn’t play a note wanted to give it a go. With initial reservations he was given a chance to prove himself on bass, which after a while he did! For the early part of 1979 the new band thrashed away in the basement and gathered together a set of tunes.

 

A name for the band was chosen, ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ and before long the first live gig was on the horizon. This provided a dilemma for ‘The Captain’ as the ‘Jets’ whom he also played bass for, were booked  on the same bill! This thought the Captain, wouldn’t go down very well with the guys in the Jets. To get round this the Captain played the first ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ gig completely swathed in ‘Mummy’ style bandages, so as not to be noticed by the Jets or so he thought!. Half way through the gig the bandages inevitably started to come adrift eventually leading to severe embarrassment on the Captains behalf. This led to an altercation the following weekend whereby Captain was indignantly thrown down the stairs to the washrooms at the Grapevine by the guys in the Jets. After this, the Captain decided to move into management, vacating the Drum kit.

The first gig at Luton’s Barnfield College was historical in the sense that this was the location where the Idea of ‘The Split Single’ was first conjured up,  alongside fellow Luton punk band ‘The Resistors’ (UK Decay) who were on the same bill. Putting aside ‘Captains’ embarrassment, it turned out to be a really ‘stunning’ gig. However, ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ were now in need of a drummer.

Pneumania on insert of The Split SingleCue Nigel Dark, a friend of Steve the Voices, Nigel was an accomplished drummer with a grounding in Jazz as well as ‘Nihilism’. Within a few rehearsal sessions Nigel had fully integrated himself into the sound and it was at this point that ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ would now change their name to ‘Pneumania’… TBC..

 

 

Part 2

The ‘Welly Street’ abode complete with rehearsal room and outside bathroom – minus roof, during the early part of 1979 quickly became established as the HQ for Pnuemania and The Resistors -who later changed their name to UK Decay. The formal tenancy of the house was at an end and the demolishing contractors were pulling the houses down around to make way for a new development. This sense of uncertainty galvanised much support from the punk community whom rallied round to help.

Punk Girl a disgrace!

The Captain and Spon who were then residing there, decided on a strategy to hang on to the home and base for as long as possible. One day the contractors started demolishing the house next door, the response by the punk residents was to fetch the amplification equipment up from the basement and to set it up in the street outside – then to blast the neighbourhood with loud punk music, in the middle of the working day -in Luton town centre.

Meanwhile Captain got onto to phone to the local press who were based just a few streets away, they could hear the noise from their offices. Very soon, the local press, police and a huge crowd had gathered to see what the fuss was about. Very quickly the demolition work halted and a stay of execution for a couple months was granted for consideration. This created much interest locally and provided motive and a strong sense of mission to achieve as much as possible in the time remaining at ‘Welly Street’.

Around that time a ‘locally -famous’ piece of Luton graffiti appeared – ‘C-O-U-N-C-I-L – V-A-N-D-A-L-S’ – each letter man-sized and painted with a roller-brush of white paint, running along a street full of front doors – each house sadly empty and awaiting demolition. This proved a great spin for the press to use as a certain Mike ‘English’ , made sure he had this as backdrop when the local press took his photo.

It was spring 1979 that the idea of the two bands collaborating came to root amidst this background. Thatcher was now in power, things looked grim all round. An idea was taking shape, the two bands pooled their resources and a new record label – ‘Plastic Records’, was created.

A release date had been set for two months and Pneumania set about writing and perfecting the two songs they had committed for the recording session. Captain now took on a ‘Manager’ role as new drummer Nigel ‘Dark’, who stood tall, aloof and looking every bit a character out of a Hammer movie – took his seat. His style was much more flippant and progressive, compared with the standard ‘2 – 4”s of the usual punk drumming. Grounded on the ‘arty’ and ‘jazz’ side, Nigel’s involvement showed great promise for future progression. He had a highly distinctive and original style. However the nickname ‘Dark’ wasn’t just his punk pseudonym – it was how he was. He would keep everyone guessing as to whether or not he would actually turn up for a rehearsal or even a gig!

Within the ‘Split Single’ development period, the two bands collaborated on a number of self-promoted gigs. They also self-penned their own networking tool – a fanzine called ‘The Suss’ which was released to coincide with these events.
The homogenisation of not just the two bands but by now a thriving community, was working very well. These were very creative times and the whole ‘Plastic Records’ gathering was gaining momentum. The recording studio was booked and the day had arrived.

Pneumania recorded two songs; ‘Exhibition’ and ‘Coming Attack’ that day, it turns out to date the only songs the band ever released. ‘Exhibition’ is the liturgy of a pure raw strangled, angry punk goddess – lamenting the attitudes the rest of society has towards her and her ilk. Her performance on the record was full on with her insides hanging out for all to see. Her ‘naked and beleaguered punkette soul’ – looking into the mirror. The music was raw and cutting with juxtaposed ‘dubby bass’ and ‘staggered drums’. The guitars phaser-slicing – jagged chords from Spon’s five strings. It builds, there’s tension, followed by a finale. “It’s a freakshow – nothing new”. Superficially it was wide open to criticism, but on another level it was a really potent performance by all in the band.

Pneumania side of The Split Single‘Coming Attack’ – the terror at the heart of urban nightmares- is a poem written from the narrative of the deceas-ed’s perspective. The loneliness of the victim succumbing to the inevitable fate in a street attack. Being a ‘Punk’ didn’t necessary mean being any different to anyone else in society. We are all vulnerable and made of flesh and blood. Actually being a punk back in the day, did increase the risk of ‘inviting’ attack.(Sadly, there are still isolated cases today – visa Sophie Lancaster)

This actually happened back in the day, to three of the band whilst returning to the rehearsal room one night. They were ‘jumped’ by a stick wielding thug who nearly broke Spon’s arm.

The music is a very fast paced three-time rhythm with a running bass line, the sheering 5 string guitar plays a single rhythmic chord. It builds, peaks rebuilds and finally crescendos as the knife strikes home. It’s all over in little over a minute – but wow! what a unique idea and production.

The afternoon in the studio had been reasonably successful, the band were happy, now it was time to get the recording released. All systems go on the ‘Slit Single’ project – five weeks to go before the deadline…….

To Be Continued…..

Perspectives

It’s October 2013 now, the album is ‘New Hope For The Dead’ by UK Decay

  • Welcome toUK Decay Communities Top Forum Articles A selection of the best and most read articles that have been published in thepopular UK Decay Communities Forum, between 2004 and the present.
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UK Decay to Nostramus – Interview

Diamond Seeds talks to Steve Spon on matters Nostramus and UK Decay.

We recently caught up with Steve Spon to ask him about his re mastering of ‘Earthlights’ an album that he wrote and produced in 1997 for Nostramus. Steve Spon (aka ‘Spon’) has recently re-joined the re-formed legendary eighties post-punk-goth pioneers, UK Decay.

We were fascinated to gain a glimpse into the thinking behind the re mastering of the classic nineties ‘D ‘n’ B noir’ album.

Which, according to one reviewer is  “probably the best Drum and Bass album you have never heard

Where the worlds of drum ‘n’ bass and post-punk and goth collide, stands a man like Spon

We were intrigued…….

D.S.# You have returned to your punk roots playing guitar again with UK Decay, in your musical evolution how does that relate to your D ‘n’ B oriented Nostramus?

“Although it can be argued that the music of Nostramus is completely different from the music of UK Decay, I feel there are threads of similarities between the two. Born out of the alternative punk-post-punk-early goth mela of the early eighties and like many ex punk types, I moved with the musical underground into the heady nineties rave scene. I sacrificed my guitar and took the technological path. It was important for me to continue to create music with an alternative message to counter the commerciality of popular music.”

D.S.# Would Nostramus appeal to the average UK Decay fan given ‘drum and bass’ surely had so much bad press?

“I know Nostramus’s mix of Drum ‘n’ Bass, Dub and Electronica may not appeal to every UK Decay listener but I know it will to some. Most of the guys in UK Decay, actually love Dub and Reggae music and have done so since the 70’s so there is nothing new there. The D ‘n’ B scene has received a lot of bad press in the past. Understandably, for many, the tragic murder of Sophie Lancaster by ‘hoodie’ thugs has put some people off the musical tastes of these low-life monsters. But I believe that mutated minorities in any genre, should not be allowed to hold good music to ransom.”

D.S.# Drum and bass was cool back then?

“From my point of view, the early hedonistic nineties D ‘n’ B scene was an invigorating and exciting proposition for many who wished to carry alternative music forward. The development in recording and playback technologies opened up a new universe of musical exploration and possibilities. Earth shaking bass lines, impossibly tight drum structures, emotive complexity in keyboard sound-scapes and sampling, all led to a new excitement in the then stale music scene. I took the plunge into this maelstrom, as it’s part of my make-up to explore new musical adventures.”

D.S.# Surely being an ex-punk had drawbacks on the emerging drum and bass scene

Spon comming at ya!

Spon on the run

“The movers and shakers of this emerging British scene were young DJ’s who had no hack with the old ‘rules’ of creating music. Like many others, evolving from the former 80’s punk scene I moved into the D ‘n’ B at a early stage in its development.

I liked the anarchic approach to creating the music and found for a time comradeship and a sense of purpose and enjoyment in the underground party scene. Back then I found a refreshing openness and tolerance to the music and the people generally in the scene…anything went!”

D.S.# What gave you the idea, or set you on the journey to creating a drum and bass album?

“Drum and Bass as well as other so-called ‘rave-music’ was developing it’s own set of rules that related to the flux’s and flow of the dance-floor. My tastes were still on the darker, deeper and hopefully more thoughtful side. At that time I was a recording studio engineer/producer and that made me open to a wide input of styles. Steve Harle introduced me to the D ‘n’ B scene back in the very early nineties. He encouraged me to embark on the musical journey that would eventually create my first album under the name Nostramus.

I called the new album ‘Earthlights’ and it summed up four crazy years of my experience of the underground party scene at a time when the music was at its most vibrant, purist form.”

D.S.# What was your aim in creating Earthlights your first album, how did you go about determining what it would be?

“The album was written using Atari computers, but I wanted it to have a live feel. I invited guests to contribute spoken and sung performances. The tunes included obscure iconic samples to create light and dark moods to give a sense of meaning. My aim was to create the most organic quality as possible, to create a journey for the listener. I wanted something that was easy to listen to, yet also had a deeper, substantial level. As a ‘non’ DJ, I even broke the dance mix rules, making it virtually impossible for DJ’s to mix the album with other tracks. I wanted to make ‘Earthlights’ stand out in a crowd.”

D.S.# Sum up Earthlights message?

“‘Earthlights’ takes the listener on a journey through themes, ranging from our pagan past, to future space travel. It questions and studies the doubts and optimisms of the human race.”

D.S.# How many did Earthlights sell back in the nineties, how did it fit in with the drum and bass scene?

Earthlights original 1997 released in the UK by Recordings of Substance

Recordings of Substance version of Earthlights originaly released in 1997

“I released this album first in the UK in 1997, on ‘Recordings of Substance’, and then licensed it to ‘Shadow Records’ for the US market in 1998. In total, there were 6000 sales worldwide. It didn’t make the top ten, but it sold steadily over a period of time and some of the feedback from reviews and emails have been fantastically encouraging. A review a couple of years back summed it up quite nicely “Probably the best Drum and Bass album you have never heard!”

D.S.# What led you to re-mastering Earthlights?

The new Earthlights 2010 re-mastered

Earthlights 2010 re-mastered CD front

“Although I was reasonably happy with the original mastering of Earthlights, I’ve since become more fluent with audio mastering techniques. In the new edition of Earthlights, I reworked the source master tapes, taking care with every step of the process in order to retain the original concept and flow. I feel I’ve now created a much more considered dynamic to the sound-scape, hopefully bringing the whole thing up to today’s audio standards and listen ability.”

D.S.# Did you just re-master or is there anything else added or taken away?

“Aside from the re-mastering, I have re-edited and re-mixed ‘Babel’ the opening track to the album, mixing in some new warped-up a-men from the un-released Jungle version of Babel. There are also one or two other new samples, subtly crafted into some of the other pieces to spice up the mix. Overall, I am much happier now with the sound and flow of the re-mastered album and I hope the listener will enjoy it even more”

D.S.# What about the rumours of Earthlights II any chance soon?

“I have had most of the material for this sitting on my shelves now for a good few years. Now with the help of Diamond Seeds work is in progress to see this project through. I shall be editing and remixing some of the material and with the addition some new performances and samples, I will collate into the final cut. I am hoping for around March April 2010.

D.S.# UK Decay are famous for being one of the first eighties post-punk bands, to make the crossover from ‘punk’ to ‘goth’

What are your future plans with UK Decay, are you enjoying their revival?

UK Decay on their Italian Tour spring 2009, Spon on the left

Spon back with UK Decay in Milan, May 2009

“I am really enjoying playing live with Decay again. It’s a real buzz playing guitar in a live situation, I had forgotten about that.

Because of commitments however, Decay can only play a few times a year, which is fine by me. UK Decay are currently working on a new album, which is an exciting challenge. Getting wild sounds out of my guitar is refreshing to me after so many years of programming songs together. The guys in UK Decay between them have a wealth of new ideas and experience to draw upon. At the end of the day UK Decay were adventuress in seeking out new sounds, we were ‘dark’ back in the day and that’s partly my fault, so they tell me! I look forward to mashing it up with them.”

D.S.# Any future Nostramus beyond Earthlights II?

“We shall have to wait and see!”

Click here for Earthlights Re-mastered 2010 £10.00 inc. shipping

Click here for Earthlights Re-mastered 2010 £10.00 inc. shipping. thru Paypal

Nostramus is now signed to Diamond Seeds Productions.

Seeded from the Diamond Seeds Blog